Some wildflower identification resources for the non-botanist

In working to identify wildflowers that we’ve photographed, I’ve found several good sites. (Having never studied botany, I’d have to learn a lot in order to key them out, so these are all strictly amateur identifications based on our field guides and information on the web. But I do go beyond simply looking for flowers that resemble what we’ve seen; I try to examine all the species found in our area, compare foliage, habitat, and prominent flower features such as stamen color.)

One site I recommend, especially for flowers of the Pacific Northwest, is Turner Photographics Wildflowers, where “[o]ver 7,000 wildflower photographs by Mark Turner are available… as stock photography…” While one may not reproduce the photos without permission/payment—this is how Mr. Turner makes his living, so respect that— they are a great resource because he has enabled the user to search by flower color, flower type, genus, and family. You can also browse photos by the month in which they were taken.


“The photos were created throughout the Pacific Northwest and in other parts of the United States and Canada. Most are from locations in Washington or Oregon. Every plant pictured is identified by Latin and common name.” Since many wildflowers have wide ranges, you may find this site helpful even if you’re flower-watching in another part of the US or Canada. And just browsing these fine photographs is really a pleasure.

Moreover, each species has a range map, links to more information such as the USDA’s site, and a summary description:


The CalPhotos site at UC Berkeley has a lot of photographs, “251,866 photos of plants, animals, fossils, people, and landscapes from around the world”. Once you’ve got a genus or species in mind, you can often find a variety of photos here to compare. For Indian paintbrush, Castilleja genus, there are 677 photos (there are 46 species native to North America, and 17 native to Oregon, according to one source). The photos are arranged by species

However, in a tradeoff for the size of this image database, the identifications are those provided by the photographers. “We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the identifications of the plants in this collection of photos. Many of these photos have been contributed by native plant enthusiasts who were not trained as botanists. Occasionally we discover that the plant in a photo has been incorrectly identified by the photographer, though usually the genus is correct. Typically identifications at the genus level are fairly reliable for this database. Nevertheless, mistakes do occur.” And the photos are copyright by their original photographers.

I used all three of these resources linked to above, trying to identify which Indian paintbrush we saw on May 22.

Castilleja .jpg

But I’m still not confident. We’re going back for another look tomorrow. Does it have the “sticky foliage and inflorescence” that Turner says Castilleja applegatei has? Stay tuned.

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